Stephen Johns was on the ice in full practice Saturday in Frisco, and that's a great sign for the defenseman who hasn't played a game in the past two seasons.
Johns, 27, has missed 109 consecutive games with post-traumatic headaches, and the process has been frustrating for all. Johns experienced the problems after training camp in Boise, Idaho last season and has been affected since. He told DallasStars.com last season that he didn't know what happened.
"I wish. I wish," he said in October 2018. "Once everything got ramped up a bit (in Idaho) and the output on the ice was a little higher, that might have triggered it. But I couldn't tell you."
Johns has not been speaking to the media as the organization has tried to isolate him from any sort of stress, so seeing him get cleared to practice on Saturday was a bit of a surprise.
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"He's been cleared to rejoin us in practice and we're going to acclimate him back to the team, slowly but surely," Stars coach Jim Montgomery said.
Johns is not traveling with the team on its current road trip, and there's no real timeline that the Stars have laid out at this point. They are going to read and react and see how he responds.
"We're just hopeful that at some point maybe he could be a player for us again," Montgomery said. "It's a peculiar case, as far as everything that has transpired, so we're just hopeful."
Johns said last year that the uncertainty of how he feels each day has been the biggest challenge.
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"It's pretty impossible to describe what I've been through these past couple months," Johns said last year. "It's the day-to-day things; there are a couple of things I can't really do. Other than that, it's just living with it."
Johns has been on the practice ice at different times this season but in a very limited role. The big defenseman played 75 games in 2017-18 and tallied 15 points (eight goals, seven assists) while earning a plus-10 in plus-minus. He led the Stars in hits (201) and blocked shots (155) that season.
Montgomery said the team's strategy is to let Johns go at his own pace.
"Just be supportive, that's all I really could do and can do, just be supportive," Montgomery said. "Hopefully, he starts to take the steps necessary."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.
Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika.